A Day in Santa Barbara County, Part One: Stolpman Vineyards

30 Dec

The Amtrak is not so bad.  Actually, it’s very nice except when it’s delayed, which is a matter for Part Three.  At the time, however, I knew nothing about flooded tracks and two-hour delays; I only knew how nice it was to be riding a train up the coast as the rain fell around me.

My destination was Santa Barbara, where my former roommate (and current Princeton grad student) Alex would pick me up.  That first day and evening, including a wonderful dinner at Bouchon, will be the subject of Part Two of this series.

I’d like to talk about Stolpman Vineyards, a winery located in the Ballard Canyon area of the Santa Ynez Valley.  If you might recall, my friend Billy had brought a bottle of Stolpman, the excellent 2007 L’Avion, to a tasting at Mission Wines we attended two weeks ago.  Alex had planned a late morning of tasting, so we went to Los Olivos to look around.  You might recall, if you were in Southern California, that the weekend of December 18 was rainy as heck.  This made driving a bit precarious but also had the unexpected benefit of clearing Los Olivos of nearly every other tourist and taster.  Alex and I basically had the town to ourselves.

We started with a light repast at Corner House Coffee, where freshly-brewed Peet’s awaited us and we could play a few rounds of Hive while we dried off.

We walked around Los Olivos, which was absolutely beautiful:

There were a number of tasting rooms, including a few I recognized (e.g. Qupe). But, one of the most attractive tasting rooms was none other than Stolpman Vineyards! I had totally forgotten that the Stolpman tasting room was in Los Olivos. We decided to give it a shot.

There was one other taster in the room when we got there, and over the course of the hour or so we were there only two or so others came in. This was probably not the best day for business, but it was a great day for me and Alex to get personalized attention from one Tom Franklin. He was very liberal with the lineup, which consisted of:

  • 2009 Sauvignon Blanc ($22)
  • 2008 L’Avion ($38)
  • 2009 “La Coppa” Sangiovese (N/A)
  • 2007 Estate Sangiovese ($36)
  • 2007 La Coppa Syrah (N/A)
  • 2008 “Originals” Syrah ($38)
  • 2008 “Hilltops” Syrah ($48)
  • 2008 Grenache ($34)
  • 2008 “La Croce” Sangiovese/Syrah ($66)

I don’t think there was a wine here that I didn’t like.  Obviously, I liked some of them more than others, some much more so.  For instance, the Sauvignon Blanc was clean but fruit-forward, sort of like adding tropical fruit to something you’d find in the Loire.  At $22 a bottle this is a serious contender at your next barbecue.

The ’08 L’Avion is composed of 100% Roussane (as opposed to the ’07 L’Avion, which was 90% Roussane and 10% Viognier).  I found it to be feminine and smooth, with a great Chateauneuf-du-Pape blanc finish.  I personally found the ’07 more voluptuous and fruity–to me, the ’08 seemed more restrained.  According to Tom, the ’08 L’Avion is more typical of the Roussane varietal.

The difference between the Estate and La Coppa bottlings was very interesting.  Stolpman’s La Coppa line is meant for everyday drinking.  They are still good-quality wines, but are great for Tuesday night and will not break the bank.  I actually liked the La Coppa Sanviogese more than the Estate Sangiovese–the La Coppa was lighter, juicier, and had more pronounced acidity.  It was more approachable than the Estate Sangiovese, which was serious, with big notes of dark cherry.  Don’t get me wrong–I could drink the Estate Sangiovese for days, but when I think of Sangiovese (not Chianti Classico or Riserva, mind you, but straight-up Sangiovese) I think of something like the La Coppa.

Similarly, there was a significant difference between Stolpman is especially known for their Syrahs.  I tried three.  The La Coppa Syrah, while billed as the “crowd favorite” on the tasting sheet, was my least favorite of the three.  I found it to be vegetal, herbal–not necessarily bad qualities but ones I found detracted from the fruit.  My favorite was the Originals Syrah, which is picked from Stolpman’s oldest “original” vineyard blocks.  Mouth-filling and luscious.  Graphite, dried fruit.  Dark and sexy.  Excellent.  The Hilltops, made from Syrah “micro-picked from only the ridgelines [of the vineyards], where the thin topsoil and harsh limestone yield less than 1 ton of fruit per acre,” was crazy intense.  It does not overpower like certain Shirazes, but it fills the mouth and shows your palate who is boss.  It is a powerful wine and one that demands to be contemplated and enjoyed over the course of a long, long evening.

Next was the Grenache, which Tom described as a “candy store in a bottle.”  It has low residual sugar but is so fruity that people mistake it for a sweet wine.  This was my least favorite wine of the morning, but it was perhaps the most fun to discuss with Alex and Tom.  I found front notes of plum resolving to a sweet-sour green apple.  Tom said he found cotton candy, and Alex said he tasted Jolly Ranchers.  Again, not my favorite, but certainly a well-made and interesting wine that has a number of adherents.

Rounding out the tasting was the ’08 La Croce, which is composed of co-fermented Sangiovese and Syrah.  Most blends are just that: blends of grapes that were vinified separately.  Co-fermented grapes are vinified together.  This wine was surprisingly refined and, after the Hilltops and Grenache, seemed light.  Beautiful cherry notes and a long finish.

Overall, the Stolpman tasting was an excellent experience.  The tasting room is nicely appointed, the staff is friendly and knowledgeable, and the wines are outstanding.  Not only did I purchase a bottle of the Originals (for myself) and the Grenache (for Alex’s mom) I ended up joining the Stolpman Wine Club and am eagerly awaiting my first shipment in April!



2 Responses to “A Day in Santa Barbara County, Part One: Stolpman Vineyards”

  1. Mark December 30, 2010 at 7:29 pm #

    Glad to hear you made it to Stolpman. It’s one of my favorite vintners in the area-next time you make it to Los Olivos, it’s worth it to contact Pete Stolpman who has taken us, as well as many others on vineyard tours etc.

    Personally speaking, I think the Syrah’s stand out the most, but again that is what Ballard Canyon is known for.

    I’ll be interested to see where else you tasted in Los Olivos…..I hope you found Blair Fox which is at the back of the coffee shop.

    • vinicultured December 30, 2010 at 10:04 pm #

      Hey Mark,

      Thanks for the comment. I definitely liked the Syrahs, but I happen to love Roussane as well. It’s great that Stolpman had solid examples of both!

      We also drove out to Beckman and tasted there. Personally, I like Stolpman better, but Beckman also had very strong wines. I didn’t check out Blair Fox but I will next time I’m in Los Olivos. I was pressed for time for this visit, but I think I’ll be in Los Olivos often in the near future.


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